Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action
Dont Look Up is a Hollywood rarity on several fronts. Its a major film about climate change. It racked up a record number of hours viewed in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot takes, along with in what may be a first sniping between reviewers who didnt like the film and scientists who did. What remains to be seen is whether the film fulfills a primary aim of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, a kick in the pants that prompts urgent action on climate change. Im under no illusions that one film will be the cure to the climate crisis, Mr. McKay, whose previous films include The Big Short and Vice, wrote in an email to the Times. But if it inspires conversation, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then Id say we accomplished our goal. In a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth stands in as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to get politicians to act, and the public to believe them. After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and penned , saying they felt seen at last. Neil deGrasse Tyson that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to A Modest Proposal, the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift. Naysayers, meanwhile, said the comet allegory was lost on those who took it literally, and questioned why Mr. McKay hadnt been more straightforward about global warming. Writing in , Richard Brody said if scientists didnt like what film critics had to say about science, the scientists should stop meddling with art. Either way, at a time when leaders are failing to take the necessary measures to tackle the planet emergency, and the volume and ferocity of so-called natural disasters reach ever graver peaks, there is little question that the movie has struck a pretty big nerve. According to Netflix, which self reports its own figures and was the studio behind the film and its distributor, the movie is one of its most popular films ever, amassing an unprecedented 152 million hours viewed in one week. The goal of the movie was to raise awareness about the terrifying urgency of the climate crisis, and in that, it succeeded spectacularly, said Genevieve Guenther, the founder and director of End Climate Silence, an organization that promotes media coverage of climate change. You cant have movies that inspire people into action without a cultural acceptance of climate change, she added, which is what this movie will help produce. Hollywood has an in feature films, if it addresses it at all. Some films made their villains eco-terrorists see Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Godzilla: King of Monsters. Or they present ecological collapse as inevitable as in Interstellar, Snowpiercer and the Mad Max films. Rare is the film that imagines a world where humans successfully work together to allay the worst of the crisis, save biodiversity and wean themselves off fossil fuels. While Dont Look Up doesnt provide a happy ending either, Mr. McKay has repeatedly stressed that he wants people to work toward that end. Netflix and climate scientists have partnered with an that lists ways people can take action. One of the films stars, Jonah Hill, appeared on The Tonight Show and encouraged viewers to ask their congressional representatives to pass HR 794, the Climate Emergency Act. And Mr. DiCaprio urged his 19.4 million Twitter followers to get involved. We have the science, Mr. McKay said on The Daily Poster, a website run by David Sirota, a journalist who is also a writer on the film. We can do this. We have renewable energy. We could invest in carbon removal. There are a lot of things we can do if we have the action, will and awareness. Hollywood has played a role in defining big issues before. Stanley Kubricks satirical Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb itself and the The China Syndrome shaped attitudes about nuclear power and war. After watching the 1983 television film The Day After, which imagined the aftermath of a Cold War atomic battle, President Ronald Reagan l that the film left him greatly depressed and hardened his resolve to see there is never a nuclear war. In 2012, while discussing his support of marriage equality, then vice-president Joe Biden credited the television series Will & Grace for educating the public. Yet Michael Svoboda, a writing professor at George Washington University and contributor to the web magazine Yale Climate Connections, said while Mr. McKay is clearly impassioned about climate change, he was doubtful whether the film delivered a useful message that would produce results. Is he asking people to become more politically involved? Is he trying to reach across the aisle? That doesnt seem to be the case at all, Mr. Svoboda said. Does it create a kind of fatalism, even nihilism, by virtue of its people accepting the inevitability after a good but not particularly well-coordinated fight? While Dont Look Up took shots at both liberal elites and members of the right, Mr. Svoboda noted that by the films end it was clearly lampooning Trumpian populism. Its unlikely thats going to reach anyone whos skeptical of climate change, he said. All that said, the impassioned responses to the film suggests a hunger for more climate content, said Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and co-founder of the think tank Urban Oceans Lab. That could put less pressure on one piece of work to be all things to all people. I would argue not whether one film is perfect, but that clearly we need a lot more of this stuff, said Dr. Johnson. Some people are inspired by the dire science projections, she continued. Some are inspired by solutions. And some are inspired by focusing on a film that points to the absurdity of the fact that were ruining the one planet that it makes any sense for humans to live on. Dr. Johnson added that she hoped that the popularity of Dont Look Up would prompt Hollywood to make more climate focused films. If you dont like it, make a better one, she said. Ill watch. is a climate reporter who focuses on people working toward solutions and off-the-beaten-path tales about responses to the crisis. She joined The Times in 2006 and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment.